By Chuck Crumbo
Published Sept. 4, 2013
The campaign to find money for completing the John Hardee Expressway has taken another turn and this time it looks like the State Infrastructure Bank might be its best bet.
The project, said S.C. Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge, faces long odds if local leaders hope to fund it through the state’s interstate highway construction program, which is aimed at fixing and improving existing, mainline highways.
“In my humble opinion, it’s going to be tough to compete,” St. Onge said at a recent roundtable on South Carolina’s infrastructure needs hosted by the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce.
Instead, St. Onge suggested the connector project linking cargo operations at Columbia Metropolitan Airport to Interstate 26 could be bundled with other Midlands area road projects and submitted as a package to the Infrastructure Bank, which funds road projects through bonds.
One possible piece of the bundle would be a proposal to renovate a stretch of Assembly Street in downtown, St. Onge said.
A task force comprising government officials and business leaders in Lexington and Richland counties already is working on the bundling idea, said Randy Halfacre, president and CEO of the Lexington County chamber and chairman of the MidState Chambers Coalition Commission.
“We’re going to try and get in line,” said Halfacre, who has been leading local efforts to find money for the project. “With both Richland County and Lexington County going together in partnership, I think we’re going to present a pretty strong case.”
The collaboration of local governments could bolster their case, said Halfacre, who also is mayor of the town of Lexington.
“It would show the governments working together,” Halfacre said. “In my opinion, it would be hard to turn down.”
The $76.8 million project would open up 100 acres of airport property for development and offer direct access for cargo carriers like UPS and FedEx to distribution centers near the interchange of interstates 26 and 77.
Completion of the expressway would improve traffic flow around the airport junction and connect the airport to industrial parks near interstates 77 and 26, according to documents filed by the Central Midlands Council of Governments.
The connector also would link the airport to the $313 million Nephron Pharmaceuticals manufacturing facility that’s under construction as well as Amazon’s 1.25 million-square-foot fulfillment center, both located at Saxe Gotha Industrial Park near the interchange of I-26 and I-77.
Amazon is a major UPS customer, the shipping company said.
When Atlanta-based UPS announced in 1994 it was building a regional hub at Columbia, local officials promised that the Hardee Expressway would connect the airport to the interstate, Halfacre said.
For UPS, the second phase of the connector could save $500,000 a year in fuel and labor costs, according to studies.
Officials say the project is “shovel-ready” and would be a boon to future regional growth as an industrial and distribution hub in South Carolina.
The first phase of the Hardee expressway, a four-lane, divided highway connecting Airport Boulevard and Platt Springs Road, was completed in 2004.